The short story "A Temporary Matter" by Jhumpa Lahiri takes place over several days during which there is an hour-long power outage each evening. Shoba and Shukumar, a married couple of Indian ancestry, lost their first baby in childbirth six months previously, and they have been unable to...
The short story "A Temporary Matter" by Jhumpa Lahiri takes place over several days during which there is an hour-long power outage each evening. Shoba and Shukumar, a married couple of Indian ancestry, lost their first baby in childbirth six months previously, and they have been unable to recover from the tragedy. Lahiri gives several clues that their grief has driven them apart. For instance, she writes:
But nothing was pushing Shukumar. Instead he thought of how he and Shoba had become experts at avoiding each other in their three-bedroom house, spending as much time on separate floors as possible.
Shukumar has become lazy and finds it hard to get out of bed in the mornings, while Shoba has become slovenly and doesn't bother to straighten up. In anticipation of the power outage, Shukumar dreads the thought of spending time with Shoba. Lahiri explains:
Tonight, with no lights, they would have to eat together. For months now they'd served themselves from the stove, and he'd taken his plate into his study, letting the meal grow cold on his desk before shoving it into his mouth without pause, while Shoba took her plate into the living room and watched game shows, or proofread files with her arsenal of colored pencils at hand.
Shoba would visit him for a moment in the evenings to tell him not to work too hard and then go to bed. Lahiri shares Shukumar's thoughts:
It was the one time in the day she sought him out, and yet he'd come to dread it.
When they try to eat together by candlelight, Shukumar observes:
They weren’t like this before. Now he had to struggle to say something that interested her, something that made her look up from her plate, or from her proofreading files. Eventually he gave up trying to amuse her. He learned not to mind the silences.
All of these clues build up to the evenings that they spend together in the dark telling each other little truths. Shukumar thinks that they may be reconciling and is disappointed when he finds out that the evening power cuts will end. However, Shoba then tells him that she has found an apartment and will move out. In turn, Shukumar tells Shoba that their dead child was a boy, something that she did not want to know. In the end, "they wept together for the things they now knew." One of these things is that their marriage is breaking up and they are going their separate ways.